The Transport Secretary Justine Greening has announced the widely anticipated green light for work to commence on the divisive High Speed 2 line from Euston to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester.
The decision to go ahead with the plans to construct the High Speed 2 (HS2) line from Euston linking the major business centres of Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.
Perhaps the most significant fact is that Labour and Coalition Governments have both been in favour of the link with Lord Adonis, Philip Hammond and now Justine Greening taking the scheme forward. A rare political consensus!
Those in favour of the link, say that the UK cannot afford not to go ahead with it so whatever the decision, it was always going to cause a good old fashioned row. Some Objectors suggest that the finance and business plan is unsound while others can be seen as purely the ‘Not In My Back Yard’ type of objection. In fact, Geoffrey Palmer did the voice-over for an Objector’s disc which in essence said that we don’t need change in the Chilterns, which is probably a minority view.
Rail.co.uk spoke on several BBC radio news bulletins about the subject and here we will try to explain the facts and examine the emotional views expressed by Objectors.
Similarly geographically located Objectors also fought the proposed closure of the Great Central line north of Aylesbury in the mid 1960s and again 20 years later when the closure of Marylebone was being planned.
When Network Southeast invested in total route management in the early 1990s house prices increased partly as a result of better commuting links and now the wheel has turned full circle with the same geographically located people vehemently opposing HS2.
There have been claims that the £32.7bn could be better spent on the existing rail network or the NHS, but there is no evidence that this money would be available for any other purpose. The reason is the payback in economic and environmental terms forecasts a profit in every sense once the line is open.
Environmentally friendly improvements have been made such as longer and more tunnels, sound barriers and tree screening will ensure that a decade after the line opens, as with HS1, the construction scars will have been returned to nature.
In essence, HS2 a long term sustainable scheme and benefits will be felt along the route because there will be local employment opportunities at all levels. In the Parliamentary debate following the announcement, it was said that several hundred million pounds would be spent in this Parliament on planning preparation deflecting claims it was spending billions in these tough times.
The worst example of ignorance was displayed by one MP who suggested that consideration be given to connecting HS2 with Crossrail. The Transport Secretary responded that this was indeed an excellent idea which was precisely why the connection would be at Old Oak Common.
The first section between London Euston and Birmingham should open in 2026 costing £17bn terminating at the original London and Birmingham Railway’s 1838 terminus at Curzon Street.
The other sections will continue north, opening in 2032 running to Manchester and Leeds. The cost of extending to the north comes at another £15bn but will relieve the East Coast Main Line and Cross-Country routes, another hidden benefit.
It has been suggested that 6 million air trips and 9 million road journeys will transfer to rail once the line is open thus relieving the existing rail network saving money on further enhancements.
It will also free up airport slots from domestic flights so airlines can service long-haul passengers better – hence the International Airline Group’s Willie Walsh supporting the line suggesting it will boost the economy. In another display of unison, Union and business leaders are all supporters of the scheme
It has been estimated that HS2 could create 400,000 jobs in the first phase ranging from labourers to highly skilled engineers and planners.
The chairman of Bucks County Council Martin Tett is vehemently against HS2 but hugely in favour of the East West Rail Link (EWRL) recently announced.
One criticism from a railway connectivity view is that the HS2 maintenance depot will be located at Calvert where the line crosses the EWRL.
Why a small station such as Ebbesfleet or Calais Frethun cannot be provided as an interchange with limited services calling, is uncertain. If an interchange were to be provided, then most of the Objectors arguments would be rendered irrelevant immediately.